Skip to the main content.

4 min read

Unleashing the Power of Targeted Ads in Education Marketing

Unleashing the Power of Targeted Ads in Education Marketing

Higher education marketing is becoming increasingly more competitive by the minute. As we move toward the 'demographic cliff' of high school graduates in 2025, colleges and universities must find a way to reach prospective students more effectively than their competition. Add decreasing marketing budgets, and the challenges become even more evident. 

Even the best messaging matters little if your ads and content never make it in front of your audience. Fortunately, digital marketing allows your institution to specifically cater to specific groups and individuals.

Used the right way, targeted digital ads are an immensely powerful tool. Instead of broadcasting your message and hoping that the right people are watching at that time, nuanced targeting allows you to spend your budget exclusively on reaching prospective students most likely to enroll at your school. 

Let's dive into targeted ads and how they can propel your recruitment efforts to success.

Table of Contents:

What are Targeted Ads in Higher Education Marketing?

Put simply, targeted advertising describes the ability to use any information you have about your audience to create ads that better match their preferences, pain points, and interests. 

Also known as "narrowcasting," it's an intentional step away from traditional advertising that aims to reach as many eyeballs as possible, regardless of their relevance. 

The Benefits of Targeted Ads for Effective Education Marketing

Targeted advertising benefits your school, as well as your audience, in several ways:

  1. Limiting your ads to relevant audiences means creating content more customized to their interests and needs, which makes them more likely to pay attention.
  2. Because you can better target your messaging, you can build your credibility by highlighting that your school cares about your student's interests and needs. 
  3. Targeting a narrower audience also means more cost-effective advertising, as you won't waste money showing your ads to an audience with little chance of enrolling.
  4. Generally speaking, highly targeted ads generate a higher return on investment (ROI) because they combine lower spending with a higher chance of achieving your desired results.

Finally, target ads can also enhance your other marketing efforts. For example, you can use them to promote blog posts, video content, landing pages, and other content on your website, increasing the visibility of your higher education content marketing efforts.

The Challenges of Using Targeted Ads in Higher Education

Naturally, the above benefits are not automatic. You'll still have to work around a few common challenges of ad targeting, including:

  • Ad targeting depends entirely on the information you have about your audience. Setting it up will be easier if you have a strong sense of who you want to target.
  • It's possible to target your messaging too narrowly. You can go as far as targeting a single user, but if that user feels singled out, you will lose their trust and goodwill.
  • Your targeting options can get confusing if you need clarification on which is best. That can lead to analysis paralysis, negating the benefits of this higher-ed marketing strategy.

The first two of these challenges require a nuanced approach. The third can easily be negated by better understanding the targeting options you have for your ads. 

6 Ways to Target Your Higher Education Ads

The modern nature of digital advertising means you have more than one way to target your ads. Understanding those options is crucial to building a marketing plan designed for success. Some of the most common options include:

1. Demographic targeting: 

The most common type of digital targeting allows you to show ads based on your audience's age, location, gender, and other demographic variables. 

2. Interest-based targeting: 

By liking specific social media pages or searching for specific keywords on Google, your audience lets you know what they're interested in--and you can place ads accordingly.

3. Behavioral targeting: 

Target your ads based on recent actions your audience has taken. For example, Facebook lets you focus only on recent homebuyers or frequent travelers.

4. Website remarketing: 

With tracking pixels, you can target your ads only to users who have recently visited your websites--or even specific pages on your website, like your campus visit pages.

5. Custom audience targeting: 

Upload a list of your inquiries or students signed up for campus visits, and most ad platforms can match their contact info with their social media profiles to target ads directly to them.

6. Lookalike targeting: 

You can also upload a list of your current students, then ask the ad platform to show ads to other online users with similar characteristics.

None of these targeting options is inherently superior to the others. In fact, a combination might work best within your larger education marketing plan. In addition, their benefits depend heavily on how you segment your target audience to build your marketing strategy.

How to Segment Your Audiences for a Better Education Marketing Plan

A better understanding of how you can target your ads is vital to start strategizing. From there, it's about building the right audience segments to implement those targeting parameters.

For example, you could leverage demographic targeting to run different messaging for students in your home market vs. students from other states. Similarly, you can run campaigns to varying stages of the enrollment funnel, like for your inquiries and your admitted students, with different custom audience lists. The same applies to running separate campaigns with tailored messages to prospective parents.

The segmenting possibilities are nearly endless. That's why an essential piece of the puzzle is working closely with your admissions team on what segments make the most sense based on their recruitment strategy and messaging. 

It also helps to build audience personas that allow for a deeper understanding of your prospective student segments. The nuances that can come out of these personas go a long way toward helping you build your segments -- and, of course, each of them can become the basis for an interest-based or behavioral targeting campaign.

Optimizing Your Higher Education Digital Marketing with Targeted Ads

Of course, simply leveraging in-depth ad targeting is not enough for automatic success. Especially if you're new to the concept, setup can be complicated, and you still need a strategy to track your ad results and optimize your campaign over time.

That's where an external marketing partner can enter the equation. Working with the right higher education marketing agency means you can build highly targeted multi-channel campaigns that integrate smoothly into your overall marketing and recruitment strategy. 

Ready to get started? Let's chat! 

let's chat >

The Role Counselors Play in the Admissions Funnel

The Role Counselors Play in the Admissions Funnel

In recent years, the college admission landscape has changed rapidly. This can be attributed to evolving demographics, easy access to information on...

Read More
Enrollment Marketing: Engaging Parents During Enrollment Time

Enrollment Marketing: Engaging Parents During Enrollment Time

Recruitment can easily become hectic with a marketing funnel as complex as higher education. You have countless channels to manage over a multi-year...

Read More
Enrollment Marketing Plan: Timing Your Campaigns

Enrollment Marketing Plan: Timing Your Campaigns

At this point, it doesn't come as a surprise that you need strategic enrollment marketing to have the best chance of meeting your institution’s...

Read More